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Numbers: Techne or Scientia?

by sandalwood Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 11:36:27 AM EST

The trend in logical positivism is to consider that predictive power is the same as understanding. We can predict, but that is not the same as understanding. We have know-how but not necessarily knowledge; in Greek terms, we have techne, but not scientia.

Numbers, and operations performed on them in algebra are ways to define one thing relative to another... the '=' sign pointing out the equivalence of one side of the equation with the other, with respect to some mathematical operation contained in the equation. One thing defines another, and no one thing stands on its own... reminds me of the Buddhist concept of dependent origination. But we want some ultimate answer, and not just some relative answer. Mathematics cannot take us beyond the relative. If we try to force the issue in QM, we meet infinities in the equations, indicating that absolute knowledge in the form that we seek is not possible. We can renormalize and get back to the business of techne, but scientia cannot be reached, at least in this way.

In the East, meditation is considered a closer approach than thought, reason, mathematics... though the sort of know how, techne, that modern physics achieves is not possible in following this path.

We want a mathematical description of the world, but what sort of mathematics will describe consciousness? We want to model the world, but in an incomplete way leaving consciousness out. If one believes that mind is an epiphenomenon of matter than one might keep going towards a mathematical description of the world, but I don't think this is tenable, and I think the infinities point this out.

Neither a physicist, nor a philosopher will get there because the sort of absolute answer we seek does not exist. Thought, language, mathematics work in the realm of the subject-object distinction, where consciousness is apart from matter, looks upon matter from a distance with no relationship to it. If reality were that way, then we could get there, but I don't think this fundamental duality describes the depths of reality which we seek. QM points out that matter cannot be described without also describing the observer... the object cannot be defined without also defining the subject. Thought and mathematics has reached its limit.

But meditation is a closer approach, and deep experiences here are non-dual. There is the ending of the agitation towards some absolute knowledge because this can be experienced. But it is not possible the drag the non-dual into a dualistic description of self/world.

Critiques, comments?


Display:
Well, I spend a lot of time meditating, but it's part of a structured relaxation program, not to gain "understanding." I think that the whole philosophical topic of "understanding" is a very complex one with a long, long history--and no generally agreed conclusion.

The argument of the scientific crowd is that they hope to gain predictability, and that there's not much hope of getting closer to understanding than that. After all, you can make exceedingly accurate predictions of electrical behavior using the mathematics of quantum electrodynamics, but in doing so you don't learn what is the underlying cause or source of the behavior.

But who says that a mathematical model must be possible to describe the behavior of the universe, anyway? It happens that you can describe a falling apple or a swinging pendulum with a simple formula, but doesn't that seem almost accidental? As you move back towards the big bang, gravity, time, mass, and everything else get all scrunched together and start doing wierd things; who says that mathematics doesn't get scrunched together as well?

by asdf on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 02:27:12 PM EST
It seems that European scientists are generally more aware of this limitation to "understanding" than are their North American counterparts.  I agree that the issue of "understanding" is very, very complex. Self and World are such mysteries, and add to that the complex relationship between the two... could be called a dual-unity actually.

I am intrigued by the movement towards deep self-experience. In the Zen tradition, such a deep experience has been termed "seeing one's original face". It seems that the usual sense of not seeing, or being aware of all of oneself can be overcome. But here we come to what  is often termed "mysticism". I tend to think that the suffering Buddha was talking about is the not seeing completely. That is, seeing only a portion, and then being led by that portion towards all sorts of infinities which could not be brought to an end. This could be engaged for an infinitely long time and still not finish. This whole situation is thoroughly mind boggling.

by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 03:14:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mind boggling, indeed, and, therefore, intriguing...
by asdf on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 07:07:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Once again, in "I am a strange loop" Doug Hofstadter introduces the idea that we, humans, are not built to get these answers, because we are asking them from a size and comprehension level we live on, but the answers are where we cannot access them with the mental tools we have: we cannot conceive infinities, and perhaps only an infinitesimal number of humans can grasp, or communicate even a portion of those off-level realities.

We try because evolution finds that kind of questioning useful in other ways, but sometimes I find the way a fourteen month old toddler uses things is analogous to the way we so-called adults use "philosophy", as a sort of binky.

I don't mean to deride or condemn philosophy's little questions, but so often, they are made to seem important, and they make the humorless run amok.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Tue Oct 27th, 2009 at 04:31:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... that there is something to "get" beyond the hows and wherefores of the world. This is by no means self-evident.

Nor is it self-evident that "getting" it is sufficiently interesting to warrant serious attention in the context of the real, self-evident and rather urgent problems faced by humanity at this point in time.

We want a mathematical description of the world, but what sort of mathematics will describe consciousness?

The fact that there is currently no good model does not in and of itself mean that there never will be.

There is no guarantee, of course, that the problem will be amenable to mathematical description. But we won't know that until and unless we make a determined attempt to find out. And however cute they may be, rhetorical gimmicks like the above do not strike me as a productive avenue for any determined attempt.

If we try to force the issue in QM, we meet infinities in the equations, indicating that absolute knowledge in the form that we seek is not possible.

I have a question that I usually ask people who want to argue philosophical points on the back of quantum mechanics:

What is the Bell experiment, and why is it interesting?

Until and unless you can satisfactorily answer that question, my advice would be to leave the quantum theory to one side and concentrate on the philosophy.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 03:41:15 PM EST
I am aware of John Bell and his contribution. Because of him we now know that "entanglement" is a measurable (and measured) phenomenon. This violates Relativity in terms of faster than light communication, or causality is greatly stressed, and 'sub-atomic particles' really don't have a state until measured.... fair enough description? In fact, the whole notion of atomic particles occupying a nominal space/time  becomes greatly stressed.

"sufficiently interesting"... no one is saying that other issues need to be put aside in order to ponder.

Do you think some sort of mathematics has even a small possibility of describing consciousness?

by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 04:30:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It cannot be ruled out a priori. Neurobiology is a young field - its boundaries have yet to be firmly tested.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 04:42:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I take it that you believe consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter... would that be a correct assumption on my part?
by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 04:44:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I may be unfamiliar with the terminology, but unless I am much mistaken, all other well described phenomena have turned out to be "epiphenomena of matter."

Whether this will turn out to be the case for consciousness cannot, obviously, be determined a priori. But if I had to lay odds...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 04:48:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I find the delayed choice experiments especially rewarding to consider... and most especially the delayed choice quantum eraser experiments. The dual-unity of consciousness-matter is especially striking here. It makes me think that it will not be possible to isolate consciousness from matter, nor to see it as emergent from matter/brain. If it were emergent from the brain then it should stay localized, rather than somehow be commingled with events that have not yet happened (quantum eraser experiments again). This is fascinating to me... how do you look at the findings?
by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 05:02:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How do you get from collapsing wave functions to a dualist interpretation of consciousness?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 05:26:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That matter and consciousness are 2 separate categories... this would be a dualist stance. But the experiments put this under stress. The dualist interpretation is under stress.
by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 05:34:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is far from clear that those experiments say anything about consciousness.

Inasmuch as consciousness is assumed to be a physical property of the brain, it operates on a micro- or nanosecond time scale. It takes heroic effort to keep two cubits entangled with each other for longer than a picosecond, even when you keep them near absolute zero temperature in a vacuum chamber.

Nanosecond cubit operations at room temperature and surface atmospheric pressure? That's science fiction, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 05:45:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"nasmuch as consciousness is assumed to be a physical property of the brain"

There's the rub... this is under stress. I am claiming to know anything more, but would you not join me saying that this is under stress?

by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 06:02:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
above should read: not claiming... spellcheck is not enough sometimes.
by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 06:03:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you assume that consciousness is not a physical property of the brain, then I fail to see how quantum mechanics (or, indeed, any physical theory) can have any relevance at all in describing consciousness.

If you assume that consciousness is partly a physical property of the brain, and partly "something else," then it is hard to see how quantum entanglement is relevant for the physical part of the process, and even harder to see how it is relevant for the "non-physical" part.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 06:48:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I've run into the same problem... but I wish to try to see it through. The experience of existence has been fascinating thus far... so much to see and so much to see through. Everywhere paradoxes.

I don't know quite what to think about myself, or the world, but the answers I was given by the societal structures around me have been deficient... both 'science' and 'religion' are not going far enough it seems to me. I do not wish to take anything on faith, so religion is out. When I look at the science of the day, I am as perplexed as enlightened.

I think, but cannot say for sure, that in some fundamental sense consciousness is more primary than matter. I have convinced myself that emergent theories of consciousness will not succeed. It seems to me that the body is an image in the mind, and that mind is somehow transcendent to space/time. That space, time and matter are part of a triumverate which cannot be separated into 3 independently existing parts.

It seems to me that consciousness somehow supercedes space, time and matter... that these 3 are categories of experience rather than ontological realities.

Chance as a concept seems to me bereft of any explanatory power, yet determinism is also ruled out. Interestingly, I found in Buddha's discourses the same statement about chance and determinism being insufficient explanations. I also read there that Buddha considered 4 questions, if approached via thought , would lead to an unsatisfactory answers. These are: What is the origin of the world? How and why do things happen the way they do? What is the range of knowledge of a meditator in a state called 'Samadhi'? What is the range of knowledge of a Buddha? I am in agreement with his statement.

by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 07:20:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think, but cannot say for sure, that in some fundamental sense consciousness is more primary than matter.

A rather anthropocentric view.

Even if every yellow main sequence star system in the visible universe were to sport conscious life forms, it would still occupy little more than 10 % of the total stellar real estate.

Assuming similar proportions to those found on Earth, life would make up less than 1:10^12 of the total mass of the planets it inhabits. Conscious life forms would in turn make up less than 1 % of the mass of living matter.

The corresponding figures for our total spacetime footprint are even more mind boggling.

If consciousness were as fundamental to the universe as you appear to believe it to be, then I would expect it to show up rather more often than it does...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 07:59:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think we're on different wavelengths here. I do not mean limited, or rather delimited consciousness in various Star Trek forms. The fact of matter, and also neccessarily space/time is secondary... this is phenomenon, rather than noumenon, to use Kant's terminology.

I think consciousness is transcendent... that is, its phenomenal forms may or may not be many... it doesn't matter. But what does matter, with respect to these statements, is referred to by the Kantian term Noumenon. Perhaps nothing further can be said, or maybe just that what we call consciousness is the link between what Kant calls Phenomenon and Noumenon.

In trying to go further with language, I am reminded of Heisenberg's comment about the limits of thought/language. I think I will have to stop here because I can find no words right now to go further.

by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 08:33:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is a rather unusual definition of consciousness.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 09:05:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
:-)

I wish what I had written could qualify for as grand a word as 'definition'.

I use to think that consciousness could be reduced to an emergent something from the brain... that mind could be reduced to matter. But the findings which I came across would seem to disallow such a belief.

Matter, when examined deeply enough turns out to be commingled with space, time and consciousness. I cannot find a clean separation between these 4. I cannot say what consciousness is. We are now in mostly uncharted territory. What is the world? What is consciousness? I cannot find any words which fit. Maybe its enough, for now, to simply see through earlier, erroneous beliefs. What comes next... I'll have to wait and see.

by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 09:16:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
H'mmmm.

The standard view in Neuropsychology, Biology of Human Behavior, Neurophysiology, & etc¹ is the Mind and Brain is One Thing.  Exactly what "One Thing" means is very much up in the air.

¹  There's even an emerging discipline of Neuro-Economics!  (I shit you not.)

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 09:45:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Exactly what "One Thing" means is very much up in the air."

LOL

I will have to look into Neuro Economics... hahaha

by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 09:53:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Prepare To Meet Thy Doom!

LOT'S of Game Theory there.

;-)

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 10:03:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, modern physics tells us that matter, space and time have some overlap when you go to the highest speeds and the greatest or the most minute distances.

What I still do not see is where this says anything about consciousness.

You seem to be seeing a link with consciousness in the collapse of the quantum mechanical wave function. No such thing is apparent from any theory of quantum mechanics with which I am familiar.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 06:50:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Have you looked at the delayed choice experiments, and most especially the delayed choice quantum erasor experments? What do you make of them? Now your turn to give an explanation... fair enough?

There is a wikipedia page, for starters... check under "delayed choice quantum erasor".

by sandalwood on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 12:18:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Keeping in mind that I have only given the paper a cursory reading, and that it has been around two years since I did this stuff for a living, I would say that the following is a fair description:

You generate a photon with an interference-pattern wave function. Then you down-convert the photon, to get two entangled photons. One of these photons is projected into a detector, and the other is split with equal probability between four different detectors, in such a fashion that two of them preserve the interference information, and the other two destroy it.

The <bra|ket> algebra involved is relatively straightforward (as long as you're not trying to compute the shape of the interference pattern):

|Psi> = 1/sqrt(2) |A> + 1/sqrt(2) |B>

Where |A> is the wave function of a photon that passed through slit A, and |B> is the wave function of a photon that passed through slit B in our two-slit experiment.

|Psi> is a state that gives an interference pattern.

|A> = 1/2 |1> + 1/2 |2> + 1/sqrt(2) |3>
|B> = 1/2 |1> + 1/2 |2> + 1/sqrt(2) |4>

This gives:

|Psi> = 1/2 |1> + 1/2 |2> + 1/2 |3> + 1/2 |4>
|1> = 1/sqrt(2) |A1> + 1/sqrt(2) |B1>
|2> = 1/sqrt(2) |A2> + 1/sqrt(2) |B2>
|3> = |A3>
|4> = |B4>

Or in plain English:

When the wave function hits any of the detectors, it can collapse to |1>, |2>, |3> or |4>, with equal probability. This determines which idling detector it will register in.

As one can immediately see by comparing the structures of the listed wave functions, |1> and |2> retain an interference pattern, while |3> and |4> do not.

It's a cute experiment, and it's quite impressive that they could get it to work. But what it could possibly have to do with consciousness leaves me mystified.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 01:38:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Double Slit Experiment
It is already a great mystery that a different outcome results based on whether or not the photon is observed after it goes through the slit but before it hits the detector.

Quantum Eraser Experiment
In a quantum eraser experiment, one arranges to detect which one of the slits the photon passes through, but also constructs the experiment in such a way that this information can be "erased" after the fact.

It turns out that if one observes which slit the photon passes through, the "no interference" or particle behavior will result, which is what quantum mechanics predicts, but if the quantum information is "erased" regarding which slit the photon passed through, the photons revert to behaving like waves.

Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser Experiment
However, it is possible to delay the choice to erase the quantum information until after the photon has actually hit the target.

But, again, if the information is "erased," the photons revert to behaving like waves, even if the information is erased after the photons have hit the detector.

We have an extremely successful formalism (QM), a physical theory where the description of the 'particle' is incomplete unless it also includes the potential information that an observer may have about the 'particle'. In QM it is meaningless to say what state the 'particle' has without reference to the state of knowledge (even potential knowledge) of the experimenter.

by sandalwood on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 05:13:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If quantum mechanics is "realistic" in the sense of Einstein's "elements of reality" then it is
  1. nonlocal
  2. context-dependent
  3. not counterfactually definite
There are theorems about these things by Bell, Hardy and Kochen-Specker respectively. These have all been experimentally verified.

Personally I'd rather drop the assumption of (naive) realism.

Nature is the way it is and, given that not only have we been able to devise a theory that correctly describes it but we've experimentally verified it, I am not sure how this can be called a great mystery. Sure, it doesn't conform to our intuition, but Galileo's law of inertia doesn't conform to intuition either. "Intuitive physics" is the physics of Aristotle in which if forces stop acting motion stops. Not only is it intuitive but it is wrong. But inertia is not a mystery - it is. A world with inertia is as logically consistent as a world without it. Just like the existence of curved spaces is not a mystery, it is an experimental question.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 05:25:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You seem to be labouring under the misconception that conscious observation is required for a wave function collapse. This is not the case. In point of fact, the most common cause of entanglement decay for qubits in magneto-optical traps is that the containment device interacts with one of the qubits in a way that causes a wave function collapse of some sort or another.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 05:55:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is Wigner's friend
The thought experiment

The Wigner's Friend thought experiment posits a friend of Wigner who performs the Schrödinger's cat experiment after Wigner leaves the laboratory. Only when he returns does Wigner learn the result of the experiment from his friend, that is, whether the cat is alive or dead. The question is raised: was the state of the system a superposition of "dead cat/sad friend" and "live cat/happy friend," only determined when Wigner learned the result of the experiment, or was it determined at some previous point?

Consciousness and measurement

Wigner designed the experiment to illustrate his belief that consciousness is necessary to the quantum mechanical measurement process. If a material device is substituted for the conscious friend, the linearity of the wave function implies that the state of the system is in a linear sum of possible states. It is simply a larger indeterminate system.

However, a conscious observer (according to his reasoning) must be in either one state or the other, hence conscious observations are different, hence consciousness is material. Wigner discusses this scenario in "Remarks on the mind-body question", one in his collection of essays, Symmetries and Reflections, 1967. The idea has become known as the consciousness causes collapse interpretation.



Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 03:14:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wondering if you've ever dipped into Rudolf Otto's Idea of the Holy, Das Heilige in German. (Also see the comments on Amazon, here.)

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 11:34:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No I havn't come across this... will have a look. Thanks.
by sandalwood on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 12:50:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That brings back memories...  "numinose Emotionen" and what ever you say in English (-:
by PeWi on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 07:16:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what ever you say in English (-:

I should have read those reviews before commenting...

by PeWi on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 07:29:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A rather anthropocentric view.

Well I defy you ... or me ... or anyone else for that matter to have any other!

(neener, neener)  

LOL

After all, we're human and we can ONLY think within the bounds of 'What Humans Can Think.'  The serious question here is "What are those bounds and how, perhaps, we can extend them."  For most of human history Gaia, as it were, was considered passive, inert, acted-upon BY humans.  The notion Gaia - and I'm very familiar with all the problems of that word and its cognates - could act ON humans -- or even Act -- was never seriously considered ... in Western philosophy and culture.  It was only when the Cubists had the stunning realization "A picture is mounted in a frame and hung on a wall" (and all that that implies) that we in the West began to think 'Bad Thoughts.'

As it were.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 09:41:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a difference between accepting that in physics, and accepting it in ethics and morality.

Sandalwood's arguments are inherently ethical - we should meditate and use our right brains rather than our analytical abilities, because it's the only way to get to truths that are fundamentally more true than those produced by science.

I'm paraphrasing, but isn't that the gist?

Science is - ironically - not particularly anthropocentric. It's pretty much, by definition, the process of getting answers and making models of the world that are unexpected, counterintuitve, and completely surprising.

While science often tips into a rather bleak morality, based implicitly on Darwinian competition of both ideas and individuals, the models of reality it generates are unfamiliar, and very strange.

I'd be surprised if anyone could design a laser in detail by meditating on the sky.

You do, indeed, get some marvellous feelings of immanence and participation from meditation. But those feelings are far more anthropocentric than science is. They ignore the fact that nature is violent and indifferent - by human moral standards - and apply an expedient feeling of purpose that may, or may not, have anything to do with how the universe really works.

There's certainly an argument to be made for remaking our current ideas about culture and making it more participative, socially, and environmentally. Sacrificing some of our detached objectivity to increase our long term survivial chances by making everyone feel involved with the earth and each other probably isn't a bad strategy at the moment.

But it's not a truth - it's just expedient motivation to solve the problem that our scientific sense of reality isn't good enough to allow for an extended predictive horizon, allowing rational planning that can do the sensible thing over the longer term.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 09:49:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, and I would add this as a corrective to Darwinism:

"Successful organisms modify their environment. Those organisms are successful which modify their environments so as to assist each other. This law is exemplified in nature on a vast scale."

Alfred North Whitehead, in Science and the Modern World.

by sandalwood on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 12:33:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... you only covered the "why is it interesting" part of the Bell experiment. How do you actually measure entanglement?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 04:44:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now you have me going back to notes that I have made/collected. Here it is:

"When an ultraviolet laser beam strikes a crystal there is a small probability that one of the photons will spontaneously decay into a pair of photons.

In so-called type II parametric down-conversion, one of the photons is polarized horizontally and the other is polarized vertically. It is possible to arrange the experiment so that the cones overlap.

In this geometry the photons carry no individual polarizations ­ all we know is that the polarizations are different. This is an entangled state."
(P G Kwiat et al. 1995 Phys. Rev. Lett. 75 4337)

by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 04:50:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
you off course here by engaging you in discussion of whether consciousness can described in the language of science or not. That's not the point.  The point is whether a mathematical explanation of consciousness even makes sense or if it is merely nonsense -- a proposition statement that, even if true, is irrelevant to what matters to us at hand about consciousness.  The limit of mathematical reasoning is not that there are areas where it might prove false, but rather that how and why things work as they do, or whether or not something can be said to exist or not, are irrelevant to thinking sensibly about things such as beauty, death, love, justice, etc.  For that, meditation, philosophy, religion, and art can provide more sensible engagements.
by santiago on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 10:41:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I did not insist on veering off into the language of science. To wit:

If we try to force the issue in QM, we meet infinities in the equations, indicating...

Now, if you are invoking quantum physics, then you are already using the language of natural science to describe your phenomenon.

One is perfectly free to discuss the matter in other languages. But then one should, I think, refrain from borrowing analogies and arguments from quantum mechanics. Such analogies and arguments are usually wholly inapplicable outside the mathematical framework of modern physics.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 10:52:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't mean to blame you or your quite valid arguments. Sorry. I meant that sandlewood's approach to your comments by engaging in you in a discussion of the validity or not using science to explain consciousness was unlikely to be fruitful given the thesis of the diary.
by santiago on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 10:58:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why are they irrelevant? Science has a good handle on the obsessive biochemistry of love. The moral differences between the hard right and the soft left is partly a function of brain structure and brain chemistry.

Consciousness is a useful fiction, because it supports an unconscious morality of self-improvement and open-ended moral choice, crowned by a sovereign and semi-divine ego.

It's not a coincidence that this pattern defines economics, business, politics and religion.

But you don't need to study a whole lot of neuropsychology, conventional psychology and even pop psychology to realise that that's Not How It Works. Actual self-reflection is rare. Successful meta-programming that transcends social boundaries is rarer still.

The vast majority of the population is fantastically easy to influence and program - q.v. Skinner, Milgram and Bernays.

People have a sense of self, of sorts, but that doesn't mean they're actively self- or other-aware, or that their consciousness isn't a patchwork of unconscious and conflicting beliefs and influences, some of which reach down into hormonal and biological conflicts created by a Darwinian assembly of semi-random ad hoc adapatations.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 10:57:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]

As I tried to explain in this comment, this is a perfect example of what Ludwig Wittgenstein, where all of the discussion of this diary is really based, would call a nonsensical statement. Proposition statements (i.e., statements about the veracity or not of observable nature) about the biochemistry of love might be completely true, but they would offer no insight of importance to the thoughts developed through the experience at hand of, say, a woman who is about to commit adultery with her lover.

A physical explanation of why the two lovers might feel the attraction for each other just isn't what matters to two lovers. (If you doubt this, try seeing how lucky you can get talking about the biochemistry of adulterous behavior with a potential lover of your own -- your spouse or otherwise.) Instead, thought through art, music and literature usually provides more insight into such matters.  That is, art, music and literature make more sense regarding thinking about the experience of love than a merely biochemical description of it.

Now, if your question at hand is something like, "What are the biochemical properties of sexual attraction?" or "How can I manipulate the physical environment to get this chick to like me?" then science might provide more sensible answers.  However, then you would have already redefined, a priori, concepts of "love," or "adultery" to fit your particular functional problem at hand, not really addressed the concepts as encountered by two real lovers.

by santiago on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 12:07:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bravo!
by sandalwood on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 12:24:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
referring to:

Why are they irrelevant? Science has a good handle on the obsessive biochemistry of love. The moral differences between the hard right and the soft left is partly a function of brain structure and brain chemistry.

by santiago on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 12:40:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll add that invoking Wittgenstein didn't answer my question.

You've stated the position is nonsensical, and then you've digressed on about adulterers - ignoring more than fifty years of research into practical psychology and biochemistry.

This is not a convincing argument.

The fact that people find their own experiences immensely significant to themselves is hardly a surprise. The fact that they believe their experiences are historically unfathomable, unique, and inexplicably mysterious - when they're anything but - is perhaps a little harder to justify.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 01:13:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're not seeing the difference.  In order to describe love through the language of biochemistry, you first have to define what love is in a way that biochemistry can provide provide meaningful evidence. For example, you could define love as sexual attraction or emotion.

However, that reductionist definition of love is not what two lovers mean by love.  Rather, they are interested in something else by the word love, and knowing more about the biological attraction part of their feelings is simply not an interesting part of their thinking on love -- its nonsense. (If the biochemical explanation of why they might be about to commit adultery is helpful to them, they probably should call it quits before things get more complicated.)

Wittgenstein's insights are important here because of his systematic exploration of how we go about finding truth in the world. Specifically, he notes that just because we cannot speak of things in truth-proposition terms doesn't mean we can assume they don't matter -- just that we can't speak of them.

by santiago on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 01:55:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
santiago:
For example, you could define love as sexual attraction or emotion.

Yes, that's exactly what you do.

santiago:

Rather, they are interested in something else by the word love, and knowing more about the biological attraction part of their feelings is simply not an interesting part of their thinking on love -- its nonsense.

No, their thinking is nonsense, because they're not thinking at all.

They're convinced their incredibly important feelings are the most real thing in the world, when the reality is that the incredibly important feelings tend to fade rather quickly, and are - in truth - easily transferrable to other people.

The point is the experience tells you nothing useful about the likely outcome, nor how to achieve what both people in that state want - which is usually a successful relationship.

If you want more people to have successful loving relationships you can safely ignore their all-consuming emotions, as soon as you realise how transient and trivial they are.

Instead you find out what actions they can take to improve clear communication, balance expectations, increase trust, and all of those other boring adult things that actually make relationships work. You can do this empirically with surveys, interviews, lab work, workshops, and so on.

If you do it, you get happier people, as any competent relationship psychologist can demonstrate.

If you don't, you get conditioned hormonal idiots completely driven by Darwinian instincts, who are as likely to kill themselves or each other as be happy. (q.v. almost any tragic opera you care to name - not to mention a surprising number of suicides and murders every year.)

Some people enjoy being swept away by a tidal wave of feeling, so this seems rather dull to them. But it can actually save marriages and save lives - in a very literal way.

santiago:

Specifically, he notes that just because we cannot speak of things in truth-proposition terms doesn't mean we can assume they don't matter -- just that we can't speak of them.

This is irrelevant here, because there isn't any problem speaking of them.

What isn't being done is mystification and unconscious sanctification - which are something else entirely, and unlikely to have been officially approved by Wittgenstein.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Oct 27th, 2009 at 07:57:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmm, seems like you must be missing out on a lot of life if the only way you can engage things is by first making them conform to your own, a priori assumptions of what the world is.

By redefining love to only mean sexual attraction or an emotion, you've changed the meaning of the word to something not originally intended.  I don't think any linguists would agree, for example, the "love" and "sexual attraction" mean the same thing.  You've substituted an observable proxy of sexual attraction for an unobservable meaning of love in the same way that economists substitute "income" for "well-being" -- it's something they can measure even if its not the same thing.  This is what Wittgenstein refers to as "nonsense." You can have a sophisticated technical explanation of sexual attraction that conforms to observable evidence about it, but someone can just say, "Um, that's neat, but it's not really what I meant by the word, "love."

An honest approach to knowledge requires accepting that language imposes restrictions on meaning, so analytical symbols are often just proxies for the concepts we are really interested in, not the concepts themselves.

If the only way you can make sense of a word such as "love" is by assuming, a priori, a narrower definition than what others might ascribe to the word, then you haven't engaged in truth seeking. You've just engaged in avoiding a harder problem -- you've been lazy.  That's a dishonest approach to knowledge at a very fundamental level, but it is also a very common one.

by santiago on Tue Oct 27th, 2009 at 10:55:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
santiago:
An honest approach to knowledge requires accepting that language imposes restrictions on meaning, so analytical symbols are often just proxies for the concepts we are really interested in, not the concepts themselves.

That's very Platonic of you, but it's at best misleading, and at worst, completely wrong.

Do you think 'love' exists outside of human experience?

As someone who is - presumably - human, how do you know this?

What exactly is an 'unobservable meaning', if no one can observe it?

Lazy thinking is much better at imposing restrictions on meaning than language is. Language is just as able to expand meaning and insight - as long as it's used correctly.

What expands insight is pattern recognition - understanding how experiences repeat, and relate.

Do you think 'love' is completely amorphous and freeform, and everyone's experience of it is completely original and unique?

Or are there certain stories, roles, scripts and outcomes that are common enough to be recognisable, and even predictable?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 09:32:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you think 'love' exists outside of human experience?

No. But I don't need to know this in order to think this, because it wouldn't change my thinking if it could be shown that love does exist outside of human experience, so your question seems irrelevant.

"Unobservable" refers to abstract concepts, and philosophers use that term to distinguish it from "unobserved" -- something that should be able to be observed if we only had the senses or tools to do it. A geometric proof is an example of an unobservable meaning in that might be impossible to observe in nature (such as true vacuum is), but it can nonetheless be shown to be true, so it belongs to the set of things in the world that can be shown to exist by using language. (Wittgenstein's truth-proposition framework.)

Other unobservable things, such as the meaning of love and death to an individual, do not belong to that set of things that can be proven to exist using language because whether or not they do exist are irrelevant to further thinking about them. Existence is not a relevant question for an abstraction such as love, but communicating what one means by love still may matter nonetheless, which means that it is still part of the world.

Do you believe there are no such things as abstractions in the world? If so, can you prove it?

Lazy thinking imposes restrictions usually by misusing language.  Misusing language is akin to using language as a crutch, much like we complain about religious people using faith as a crutch. Lazy thinkers fail to imagine meaning beyond present definitions of symbols, and they fail to appreciate how the definitions of the symbols they been given by others must necessarily restrict their ability to think about the world. Non-lazy thinkers, which are rare, are those use their recognition of the limits of language to generalize beyond those limits and thereby make new discoveries about the world.

Do you think 'love' is completely amorphous and freeform, and everyone's experience of it is completely original and unique?

No, I don't. Uniqueness is not a relevant concept to my understanding of love. (I'm not sure why you keep bringing it up.) Whether love is the same or different for each individual has nothing to do with wanting to think about and communicate one's own personal experience of it. It is enough that I think that each individual being is unique. (Which can be proven using only simple characteristics such as time and space to show that at least in those two dimensions no two individual beings are the same.) That's why you can't universally define "love" as "sexual attraction." (Again, how many people can you find who really think those two words mean the very same thing? I know you won't find many philosophers or other people who have really thought deeply on this subject who do.)  

There certainly are stories, concepts, roles, etc, that are common enough to be recognizable and predictable. But that's not important to our discussion here. What matters in many cases are not the odds of prediction, but individual, unique experiences at hand. Although there are billions of people in the world, the only experience of it that I can answer to is my own. I'm the only one who will die my own death, and the bio-chemical description of that death will be irrelevant to my experience of it, even if it is relevant to my experience of others' deaths.

As a banker once told me regarding his lack of trust in portfolio risk management techniques, "When you're the one who's diving head-first into a pond, it doesn't really matter what the average depth is, does it?"

 

by santiago on Sun Nov 1st, 2009 at 12:33:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're using mystification to avoid the point - which is that there isn't really a there there.

The experience is - the experience. Animals have experiences. Plants have experiences. (Albeit probably not very interesting ones.)

By trying to elevate experience to metaphysics you're attempting to put a numinous cloud of awesome around a instinctive and scripted Darwinian experience - like adultery - which is actually incredibly common and predictable, and not particularly interesting.

It may be a surprise to the participants, but it certainly isn't a surprise to anyone who knows anything about human sexuality - including their own and their partner's, if they have half a clue.

Mystification is exactly what the untrained ego does. When it meets something it doesn't understand, and which it experiences as an overwhelming influence, it either sanctifies it and gives it a halo, or demonises it and gives it horns and a tail.

Then it uses an ad hoc mish-mash of narrative logic to morally justify either position. (Or sometimes both positions at the same time. The ego isn't very good at consistency.)

Art can't tell you anything useful about this, because it's one of the most popular techniques of sanctification and mystification.

All it tells you is what the artist was feeling at the time - which is only rarely a surprise. Because if you study enough art you can realise that these feelings - like those in adulterous relationships - follow a very small number of predictable scripts.

For example, Bougereau:

Is this really a profound, unexpected and surprising insight into the nature of love?

Or is it just a ritualised representation of a popular story that people tell themselves and each other about a very common set of hormonal responses?

What's more interesting - the story taken on its own terms, or the relationship between the story and real experience?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 01:06:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Um, no.  You've just made a series of assertions about things -- mystification, experience, etc., which are all dependent upon an a priori, reductionist, assumption about things that cannot be observed -- that there "isn't a there there."  Take away that assumption, which you can't prove either true or false, and you're left with thinking about mystifying things.

What science provides is a way of organizing thinking so that truth can be determined from lies when observing natural states of affairs.  Unfortunately, thinking in art and religion can't be so systematically organized -- honesty is difficult to verify.  But that does not mean that such ways of thinking are false -- just that better training and experience might be needed to acquire the wisdom to distinguish truth from lies in art, religion, or even meditation.

by santiago on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 01:42:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're getting stuck against the internal/external explanation problem.  

Being able to explain the biochemistry, social frequency, and likely outcome of a behavior is nice and good and interesting, but it's also true that it says nothing about the actual experience of the feeling that the subject is having.

The two are different.

Biochemical and neurophysical studies are interesting in they are giving us a better sense of what exactly is going on in the brain when things are happening.  These hormones are surging, these triggers are doing something, this part of the brain has extra activity.  That's all fine and dandy, but it's a hell of a long ways from describing biophysical activity at that level of vagueness to providing a physical reduction of consciousness.  

I think one could describe it as something like the difference between using English to describe what a computer is doing as a program runs, and having the source code and the programming manual.  "It's using RAM to cache the data read off the hard drive" is a heck of a lot different than the binary code that causes those processes.

Until we have that level of understanding of the body, we won't really know whether experienced consciousness can be fully and completely reduced to the physical workings of the brain.

And even if it is, it may require an entirely different approach to directly and externally explore the nature of the subjective feelings and experiences that the conscious state, whatever that may be, is feeling and experiencing.  That is, we may know the code, but it might not help in understanding how the program feels while it's running the code.

Or not.  I don't know, and I think that's the point.  Right now, it's an intractable logical issue that may or may not be amenable to further scientific research, depending on how the facts of the matter match up with the logical problem.

by Zwackus on Tue Oct 27th, 2009 at 10:09:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Zwackus:
And even if it is, it may require an entirely different approach to directly and externally explore the nature of the subjective feelings and experiences that the conscious state, whatever that may be, is feeling and experiencing

great comment, zwackus, sums it up nicely.

any ideas what that new approach might be or entail? (enhead?)

will it come down from the experts, do you think?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Oct 27th, 2009 at 11:35:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have absolutely no idea.

Unless a serious breakthrough in applied meditation is on the horizon, I don't necessarily see any of our current subjective and inner-driven methods of providing anything different from what they have over the past several thousand years - a variety of vague senses about a variety of things that can't really be explained in any sense of detail while remaining comprehensible.  The sort of experiences coming from this may well be profound, meaningful, and wonderful in all kinds of ways, but from the perspective of building a shared and knowable understanding of human consciousness and the subjective experience of human reality they are not very useful, because they seem so incredibly personal and so resistant to logic, evidence, or even description.

On the scientific front, we'll know when we get there, I suppose.  If we ever do.  

by Zwackus on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 05:08:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Zwackus:
The sort of experiences coming from this may well be profound, meaningful, and wonderful in all kinds of ways, but from the perspective of building a shared and knowable understanding of human consciousness and the subjective experience of human reality they are not very useful,

oh but they are...

it's just under the radar, unmapped frequencies.

language is the map, and these experiences are off the edge, non/languageable. no one art form encapsulates enough vocabulary to fully describe ineffable noumena as yet, but folks are working hard on that.

meta is north of where the overton window is on this right now.

we talk here a fair bit about the overton window sliding left or right, while ignoring too often the possibilities of its movement in the vertical plane.

didn't einstein say problems can't be solved at the level they're on?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 08:39:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, if someone manages to actually figure out how to talk about/portray/describe in any medium these sort of things, then we'll be in a completely different situation from where we are now.  It'd be nice, but I can't say I'm terribly optimistic.
by Zwackus on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 05:54:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We have writing and language, which are good for abstract ideas. Language can do poetry and narrative, but it's abstracted, almost by definition. Even when it's associative, it only works because the hearer is relying on their memory of experience - not on the artist or poet's experience.

What we don't have, and have never had, is a 'language of experience' which shares experience directly, without having to rely on invocation, memory or association.

There isn't even a word for the concept, which is why it's hard to explain. But if you imagine being able to share, interpret, and store for posterity all of the details of a lifetime, without having to experience them in real time - that would be close to what I mean.

Once you have that as a beginning - something equivalent to writing, but capable of sharing direct experience - you could then evolve a corresponding language, which wouldn't be verbal or conceptual, but could still be used for summarising, changing, and becoming more intelligent about human experiences.

Art hints at this, sometimes, a little, but it's a pale shadow of what would be possible if something like this could be invented with technology, or made to work in some other way.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 09:10:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What we don't have, and have never had, is a 'language of experience' which shares experience directly

And will never have as

, without having to rely on invocation, memory or association.

the brain don't work.  

You can't even get from level one to level two in the visual cortex without association.  That's what the two levels do.  See: here for cite [Emphasis added]:

They found that some neurons fired rapidly when presented with lines at one angle, while others responded best to another angle. Some of these neurons responded differently to light patterns than to dark patterns. Hubel and Wiesel called these neurons "simple cells."  Still other neurons, which they termed "complex cells," had identical responses to light and dark patterns. These studies showed how the visual system constructs complex representations of visual information from simple stimulus features.

Motion happens "out there" but we perceive it "in here" and then go on to do other stuff based on that perception as determined by memory, association, instinct (sic), and so on, blah blah.

To underscore my point, there's some nasty genetically carried neurological diseases where the brain doesn't properly associate neural signals to 'doing stuff.'  Most of the time these people die very quickly as it's hard to keep living if the heart doesn't pump regularly or you "forget" to breathe.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 09:57:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Um - no.

If experience is purely physical and mechanical - or biochemical - then it's possible, in principle, to reproduce it.

There could, potentially, be some equivalent of Heisenberg for thoughts and experiences which limits their copy-ability. But since there's no evidence for such a thing, there's no reason not to believe that reproducibility is a technological problem, not a philosophical.

The fact that the technology might need to be far ahead of what's available today, and might need to tweak and model individual neurons, doesn't change this. It's an inherent feature of a scientific view of experience.

Of course, if experience and consciousness turn out to be something more than neurons, then that's a very different game.

But if you accept the current scientific view, then you have to accept the possibility that technology can reproduce, simulate, and abstract whatever is happening.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Oct 29th, 2009 at 02:15:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes - up to the point of consciousness, which, being subjective, can be perhaps modeled, but not experienced. If, as I contend, self-awareness/consciousness is an outcome only of complexity (multiple simultaneous 'terminations'), then in theory the system that exactly modeled the CNS/Brain interactions and history could itself experience self-awareness, if it was complex enough - but the experience itself would not be observable, only the effects of that experience.

Which is where we are now ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Oct 29th, 2009 at 02:27:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
Art hints at this, sometimes, a little, but it's a pale shadow of what would be possible if something like this could be invented with technology, or made to work in some other way.

i agree with you fully on this one. art is at the flintstone stage, and yet is the  only language set that seeks consciously to expand and express simultaneously, to root in familiar and branch into the abstract, to leaf, flower and fruit in ways that may be novel, even though their elements remain pretty constant.

a few well blended primary colours and you can have van gogh. five pentatonic notes can move millions into gear.

what makes a beethoven, a one in a million fluke of gene combos, what are the last elements to digitise, the most resistant to cloning, what are the details that distinguish us from each other and the worlds around us? a computer cannot respond to us with true animus, there's no homunculus inside that be truly original, it can just rejumble man's old offerings in rejigged ways. that's why most electronic music is so dull, it doesn't matter if that snare drum was recorded with the best mikes on the finest instrument in the finest room, or if it's been quantised to be more 'humanised', or it's programmed by a sengalese shaman, it will never ask you to take a leap deep into the present such as is offered by (an)other musician(s) in an improvisational combo when he, she or they is/are (jeez what language is this) inspired in the realtime moment, and on whose artistic response you can build conversation, set your sails.

as tech tries ever harder to make a facsimile of verisimilitude, it throws up such fascinating stuff, it's like it wants to mate with us sometimes. other times suck our brains out our eyes and ears while probing for our souls.

do we want to mate with it? or just mess around a little once in a while?

if you try and play a snare drum exactly the same way twice, you quickly realise how hard it is, the instrument is so subtle in its response to a wide variety of attack, vector, and intention.

computer drum tracks are like artificial flowers, they can be works of art, but they'll never perfume your room, and their depth of field is smoke and mirrors compared to the real they are so cleverly faking.

but there's a huge market for rubber women men actually have sex with, so there's no telling how strange can human desire be?

then maybe we'll fully grok how expensive it is to be real, and how it needn't and shouldn't be...

but miking and producing real drums...that's a work that may seem like buggy whip making, i know, i know...

;)  

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Oct 29th, 2009 at 12:04:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We have writing and language, which are good for abstract ideas

When is an idea not abstract? When it is tangible perhaps?

What we don't have, and have never had, is a 'language of experience' which shares experience directly

I know of such a "language" --abstract of experience, sign of experience. It is psychology, lexicon of association and assimilation. Set aside my and your understandings of and competencies in manipulating this language --its many dialects inclusive-- though.

There isn't even a word for the concept, which is why it's hard to explain. But if you imagine being able to share, interpret, and store for posterity all of the details of a lifetime, without having to experience them in real time - that would be close to what I mean.

Oh, but this concept has been done. VR-clips, Strange Days (1995), a provocative and entertaining film: Lenny's addiction, as well as the recreational utility of "direct experience" sought by others, raises questions you may be interested in exploring. For example, the extinction of language.  

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Thu Oct 29th, 2009 at 11:14:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"The fact that there is currently no good model does not in and of itself mean that there never will be."

I think this is a very important part of the discussion. The models in physics before 1900 had big accuracy problems, with a whole slew of experimental results that didn't come close to fitting. Nowadays there are good models for most of the observations, with only a few outliers (and a couple of huge roadblocks!), which makes one wonder whether there is a convergence taking place. It is possible that we could get to the point where there is a model that explains every observation to within experimental error.

At that point, do we "understand" what is going on? Nope.

by asdf on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 07:13:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Everyone knows science is really a conspiracy run by the coffee growing industry.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 09:51:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
we may never fully understand in a scientific sense, but we just might relax our obsessive need to quantify/replicate states into things, which might be even better.
the human brain's desire to ramify everything may be its biggest distinction from the rest of creation, but it may be a rogue loose wire that burns the house down, too.

science's results have come from a kind of gambling, and i think we're going to have to be a whole lot less profligate in where we place our chips.

it makes sense to study consciousness, and lack of it!, with the best scientific tools at our disposal, how could we not, it's so damn fascinating?

but i suspect we are still babes in the woods in this regard, and reality will always be an elusive step ahead of us.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 08:57:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Assume" might not be the right word for it because assumption is part of the language of making and proving propositions about things.  But there are certainly issues of being for which the hows and wherefores of the world are merely nonsense. That is, propositions regarding the hows and wherefores might be true and therefore explainable with the language of mathematics, but even if they are, they aren't at all what really matters in the experience at hand.  

For example, when someone's child dies, the hows and wherefores of death as a category of being are not at all what matters when contemplating the meaning of her death -- to explain death in physically and mathematically correct terms would be nonsense in that context because they are not what is interesting about the death of that child.

In addition to meditation, the language of philosophy, religion, and art often provide means for thinking sensibly about those parts of life (which is probably most of our lives - think of beauty, morality, love affairs, etc., ...) for which propositional statements are nonsensical.

by santiago on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 10:31:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I did read through this to start with and was wondering whether we would be doing someones Homework.

Neither a physicist, nor a philosopher will get there because the sort of absolute answer we seek does not exist.

I'd question whether Philosophers are looking for the sort of absolute answer that you appear to be assuming. After all you take logical positivism as your example, but that is really a narrow philosophical view.

The last paragraph leaves lots of questions unanswered, Why do you claim meditation is a closer approach, and why and in what way do you say that experiences are deep and non-dual? Much of the rest of the paragraph would leave the reader sayiing "So?" the argument here appears meaningless.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 05:11:23 PM EST
I'd mentioned logical positivism because it is dominant now. What is self and world and how/whence does it arise has been and I think continue to be a dominant question for a lot of people, including those who are called philosophers.

And about meditation... yes this must appear quite opaque. This is an experiential finding, not emenable to the usual sort of approach to verify or debunk. If what I am saying, that an objective knowledge is not possible, is correct... then perhaps a subjective knowledge is all that's possible.. but this is not verifiable by anyone other than the experiencer. Its a tough situation to be sure.

by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 05:25:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If what I am saying, that an objective knowledge is not possible, is correct... then perhaps a subjective knowledge is all that's possible

It has yet to be established that subjective knowledge is possible, in any commonly recognised definition of the term.

Subjective experience, certainly. But as we are fond of saying around here, the plural form of "anecdote" is not "data."

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 05:30:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, its rather sticky... at least to an era which is tied to the sensory and cognitive modes only. I find the following very interesting:

"If thought is only part of the whole, can it ever contain the whole?" -- David Bohm

Werner Heisenberg in Science and Philosophy: "Any concepts or words which have been formed in the past through the interplay between the world and ourselves are not really sharply defined with respect to their meaning: that is to say, we do not know exactly how far they will help us in finding our way in the world. We often know that they can be applied to a wide range of inner or outer experience, but we practically never know precisely the limits of their applicability. This is true even of the simplest and most general concepts like 'existence' and 'space and time'. Therefore, it will never be possible by pure reason to arrive at some absolute truth."

The second stanza of Patanjali's yoga Sutra reads: "Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha"; that is, "The technical aim of Yoga is the intentional stopping of the spontaneous fluctuations of mind/thought. Why? To address the problem so well described by Prof. Heisenberg above.

by sandalwood on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 05:43:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the simplest and most general concepts like 'existence' and 'space and time'.

And those are simple concepts? I'll admit that they might seem relatively simple on the surface, but a couple of hundred, if not thousand years of observation and analysis have shown those concepts to be anything but. Id argue that the Heisenberg quote conflates the specific with the general. and from a general, where an absolute truth may be difficult to produce we may find that on the specific,we may be able to arrive at an absolute truth.

"If thought is only part of the whole, can it ever contain the whole?" -- David Bohm

Thats a line of argument that I find a touch tricky, its like saying Bricks are rectangular, so how would you ever build a cathedral out of them?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 08:55:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
you ask interesting questions, sandlewood.

meditation is a natural art, babies can do it, animals...

you ask if mathematics can describe consciousness, it seems from your words, and then you hint that meditation, in the buddhistic sense, is a resolution or release of the 'stress' you frequently mention.

why not say if you have experienced this kind of release, and if you have, did it help with the stress?

as a massage therapist, i deal with releasing stress, and have come to the conclusion that in engineering terms we need stress to build muscles, if we had none we'd be limp as rags, and too little is as bad as too much.

assuming there is a separation between body and mind, (for the sake of argument), why would it be different for the mind with respect to needing certain levels of stress (work) to function correctly and productively, to attain tone?

the same stress (force) that through resistance encourages our musces and bones to grow strong, in different amounts, can break muscle fibres and shatter bones. likewise with the mind, a strong mind can cope with enormous conflict and retain equanimity, just as strong, fit body can withstand shock and heal up more swiftly.

if you mean concepts are suffering stress, why worry?

if they don't hold up, they're obsolescing!

as for searching for some formula to describe a fluid psychospiritual state of consciousness, isn't that what artists do, when they attain their mastery and achieve their creative goals?

is mathematics an art, that it wants to play there too?

does understanding pythagoras help understand music?

you like questions, obviously, me too!

welcome to ET, btw.

ps. if you are speculating that we can perceive the universe as unbroken whole through meditation, it would be interesting if you tried it and let us know how it worked for you. i hope you will find my comments pertinent, they may well not be, lol.
:>)

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 10:23:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
assuming there is a separation between body and mind, (for the sake of argument), why would it be different for the mind with respect to needing certain levels of stress (work) to function correctly and productively, to attain tone?

Ya know ... you're a real Pain-in-the-Ass.

That is one damn good question and I'd really have to think about it for a while to come-back with a good response.

We -- at least I -- just assumed mind-stress is a Bad Thing.  But ... doesn't learning involve mind-stress?  

damndamndamn

need to think

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 10:55:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Comment responses
Ya know ... you're a real Pain-in-the-Ass.

you know, for someone with such a hilarious sig i chuckle every time i see it and re-perceive its utter brilliance, an who's made many and various comments through the years evincing such superior intuition and articulation, i'm truly surprised you haven't stumbled on such a self evident truth!

shows to go ya...

don't knock yourself out! allow it to open gently :)

sometimes the best pleasures start a bit funny.

being a pain in the ass is practically a prerequisite for blogging here at ET, so i'll take it as a compliment, i'm fully that desperate for strokes!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 07:20:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Surely there is no higher compliment than being a pain in the ass, in that you've made someone else have to think hard. (And provided a comment with inbuilt examples and tests) My old Philosophy of Science teacher didnt think that it had really been a successful lesson unless at some point he'd ended up with his head in his hands trying to work something out for five minutes.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 07:37:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was meant as a compliment.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 12:21:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hi Melo, thanks for the welcome.

I am referring to the stress placed on concepts, rather than stress on body/mind in an individual. Agree with you on the need for some stress... Hans Selye wisely spoke of eustress and distress... the useful and the overwhelming.

I think you have a point about mathematics being an art. I do think that too many endevours are wrongly thought about as scientia, when they are techne, as the title of this diary states.

Art is a tricky word too... nowadays relegated to the making of pretty pictures. Any conception of self and world is neccessarily an artistic creation. The endeavours known as Science nowadays are full of conceit because they claim to show actuality, rather than the partial, paradoxical pictures that they create. Stating this sometimes starts loud arguments though... so let's not say it too loudly. ;-)

Meditation is of course a mysterious word too... so many activities are considered meditative. I tend to move away from the word meditation as soon as I can, instead going back to the original sanskrit words which are often translated as 'meditation'

2 words are generally translated as meditation... Dhyana and Samadhi. Dhyana was historically transliterated in China as "Chan", and then from there in Japan it became further transliterated as "Zen".

Dhyana, in its most basic sense means to 'pay attention', with eyes open or closed. This is not too mysterious. But the other word, Samadhi has no equivalent in the english language. Samadhi is a word which links 2 smaller words... Sama and Dhi. Dhi means to see, and Sama means "same". Sama-dhi can be taken to literally mean 'same-seeing'. That is, that which sees is the same as that which is seen. This refers to a state where the 'meditator' is not split into 2, a subject which ponders and an object which is pondered. This subject-object divide collapses in Samadhi... hence the term 'non-dual' is sometimes used to describe it.

Since you ask, I don't mind saying that I have seen this for myself. And as you say its pretty simple... allow the stream of consciousness to become quiescent, and at some point... Samadhi. In the Yoga tradition, persons are brought to this after ethical and intellectual training so that they do not become destabilized by it.

by sandalwood on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 12:38:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the useful and the overwhelming, yesss.

i guess you'd have to look at underwhelming too, in the sense of boring schoolwork, dumbed down tv shows etc.

thanks for sharing about your roots being vedantic, if i may surmise, that helps me to understand where you're coming from as it was the pathway i entered also. reading aldous huxley's 'perennial philosophy' was one of the main doors of perception, i had so many notes and dog eared pages on that book, i carried it everywhere and wanted to shout its praises from the rooftops to all around...

such a huge relief to step out of the cramped box of european religious thought!

it seems to pain you somewhat that the concepys you refer to are undergoing such stress. could you have perhaps identified or invested in them on a personal level?
it is sad, in an autumnal kind of way, when things pass away, but they have to go to make room for newer and more resilient thought forms, would you agree with that?

more existentially, it might be nice not to have to die one day, just stick around enjoying life with your friends and family for ever, but we have to make room for the young, or we'd be piled thick on the ground for sure!

i identify with the wild beauty of nature very much, which makes watching a sunset, or a storm, or waves curling a very personal experience, i feel no separation, the merging is unselfconscious and absolute. later my rational mind attaches labels and tags to the memory in a futile but endearing attempt to have some kind of coherent filing system for ideas, for easier search in the archives.

heh, izzy's diary comes to mind...

... but it also makes it physically painful to see pictures of polluted earth scenes like jerome posted yesterday.

all this identifying... it is pleasurable, but has quite a price...

i need an identity to live here on earth, without it i'd be toast, but what is it made of?

this is where meditation is the scuba tank that can help you stay down deeper and longer in the parts of our minds that aren't easily accessed, where often there are keys to understanding our natures more fully, which in turn helps enormously in establishing priorities, and in turn values.

ergo, raja yoga.

sandalwood:

Any conception of self and world is necessarily an artistic creation.

no truer words ever spoken! every breath can be breathed more consciously, every step made with more mindfulness. life as one long tea ceremony...

:)
 sandalwood:

Sama-dhi can be taken to literally mean 'same-seeing'. That is, that which sees is the same as that which is seen.

Martin Buber got this with the i-thou.

thanks for all the sanskrit insights. it really fascinates me how old a language it is, the seed syllables in tibetan buddhism and the science of mantra go back to similar roots.

yoga truly is the most beautiful gift we humans have ever given ourselves, and aside from its beauty even, it may be the only philosophy/way of life wise and powerful enough to save us from our darker sides, so ascendant right now.

yoga is not perceived in the west as a science yet, but if your goal is self-knowledge, or a life lived deliberately, it's the best and closest tool we have.

it's also the cleanest, as it needs very little fuel indeed, just a mat, some space and time to concentrate.

mathematise that baby! (i do believe there is a growing fusion between machine intelligence and what we presently, and presumptuously, lol, name 'human'.  recent experiences with the nintendo wii's fitness program and balance board have have been very revealing and helpful in that regard)

apologies for mis-spelling your handle before, oops...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 08:05:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Melo, I am not perturbed... I had nothing invested in these concepts now under stress... I am happy to see them under stress.

Not just Vedanta, but the entire system of the 6 views (darshanas) that Vedanta is a part of... the others being... Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Mimamsa and Yoga... also, Tantra and Buddha's Teaching.

Additionally, seeing these in the given context of the 4 aims of life: Virtue, Prosperity, Pleasure and Moksha (a good translation not available for this word... but lets say 'enlightenment')

Also, the other helpful means along the path... Ayurveda, Taoist Medicine... and others.

Martin Buber is a Theist... yes? So not the same... big difference.

by sandalwood on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 12:29:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
please excuse my ignorance, but isn't vedanta a form of theism? (poly for sure.)

glad to hear you're not peturbed.

i sure am, but i'm working on it!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Oct 27th, 2009 at 06:25:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Please have a look at this... especially # 41, 47 and 25

http://gallery.me.com/pankaj.sophie#100018

This is a link to 108 classical and modern references that I have made... great pics of sacred sites in India are here along with text.

Vedanta says that on closer examination, Atman is Brahman... that is, the individualized I-am-ness is co-incident with the I-am-ness of reality as a whole. This is experienced via the methods of Yoga. Further,  the other of the 6 views give another angle into what is only approachable via thought in partial ways.

About these 6 views: 2 quotes on slides # 13 and 14.

Thanks for the question... positing theism onto Vedanta and what  is otherwise called "hinduism" is a common misconception. This results from projecting the theistic view of Christianity onto a wholly other way of approaching... what to call it... the wonderment of existence, the nature of mind etc.

by sandalwood on Tue Oct 27th, 2009 at 11:33:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
what continually amazes me is that simplicity.

the reason so many suffer is because they miss the obvious...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Oct 27th, 2009 at 11:47:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK.  Got it.

It's all to do with the way the hippocampus and the amygdala handle Dopamine.  A little bit of stress increases Dopamine which heights activity in the old hippo helping memory, "conscious" (sic) learning, & etc and depressing, deactivating, amygdala function.  A whole bunch of stress causes Dopamine release to have the amygdala (aggression and fear center) 'file away' ("remember") the stimulus creating the pre-conditions for PTSD while deactivating hippocampus "conscious" (sic) memory.

So there 'tis.  Little stress - not bad, even Good©.  Lots of stress - Bad.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 10:16:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks for that info...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Oct 29th, 2009 at 12:22:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, and unfortunately in my view, Logical Positivism has been pretty well beat-up over the last 20 - 30 years.  "Unfortunate" in that the promise of LP has turned-out to be somewhat of a mirage although the program of LP still, in my humble view, still has much to offer.

Post Modernism is AFAIK the predominate philosophy in academia although that's starting to get beat-up as well.  The 'Social Text' affair, previously discussion 'round here, put paid to the more extreme view(s) and from my reading forced them to withdraw their horns a bit.  I have serious problems with PM due to its reliance on Saussure's Semiotics as well as their naive - in my view - disenchantment with Language-as-Descriptor System.  (Putting it badly.)  Part of their problem - again, in my view - is a misreading of Nietzsche critically the phrase "Wille zur Macht" as 'Will to Power;' in my view the phrase is better translated as 'Will to Make,' i.e., 'Will to Create.'  Which is where Die Frohliche Wissenschaft subtitled "la gaya scienza," after all, comes in.  (I let those who know more than I determine if "scienza" should attach to techne or scientia.  ;-)  Nietzsche himself said Zarathustra and DFW said the same thing, tho' very different.  Thinking of the Camel-Lion-Child sequence in Zarathustra its hard for me to see a Child having a Will to Power tho' I can very easily see a Child having a Will to Create.  I read nothing in DFW to contradict that.

Especially when read in German ... even my lousy German.

And I seem to be wandering all over the place.

(Oops.)

ANYWAY ...

Logical Positivism is no longer the mainstream philosophical position ... even in the US.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 09:27:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... makes more sense to me.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Oct 29th, 2009 at 02:30:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If what I am saying, that an objective knowledge is not possible, is correct...

If you sit down and think about that you'll realize this statement doesn't even hold itself.  It's a variation of:

Statement A implies non A

If objective knowledge is not possible then the statement "objective knowledge is not possible" ... is not possible unless the statement is False in which case objective knowledge is not possible.

In my view, to "save" the Truth within the statement by stating it: Objective Knowledge is only possible under certain Conditions.  

And we can now, logically, argue about the capitalized words in my formation.

UNLESS, of course, one accepts S5 where "objective knowledge is not possible" is "possibly necessary"  thus necessary.

I wouldn't go that far but YMMV.

 

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 09:58:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Statement A implies non A

complements, speaking mathematically: a -> -a. a means a, -a | where -> represents elision, a semantic operator.
true and false are complements; both are attributes or signs, speaking mathematically and semantically. true and false modify a thing: the thing (--) and the negation (-) of the thing, mathematically, semantically, existentially.

"the truth" is agreement --among people, signified by speech. It is a thing, a state of mutuality or an interpersonal identity, so to speak. Whether this thing is either true or false depends on affirmation of its meaning by one or more subjects. Notice that truth (sign) has no complement in any language, that I know, such as "the false."

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 07:35:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm in a rush. I meant to void the expression ("statement") to emphasize the term "A".

Statement A implies non [not] A

logical positivism fails to explain complex structures such as strings of terms (expressions or statements).

sorry to bail. i may return this evening...

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 07:44:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the reasons Nagarjuna so perplexes many who come to his texts is his seeming willingness to embrace contradictions, on the one hand, while making use of classic reductio arguments, implicating his endorsement of the law of non-contradiction, on the other.  Another is his apparent willingness to saw off the limbs on which he sits.  He asserts that there are two truths, and that they are one; that everything both exists and does not exist; that nothing is existent or non-existent; that he rejects all philosophical views including his own; that he asserts nothing.  And he appears to mean every word of it.  Making sense of all of this is sometimes difficult.  Some interpreters of Nagarjuna, indeed, succumb to the easy temptation to read him as a simple mystic or an irrationalist of some kind.  But it is significant that none of the important commentarial traditions in Asia, however much they disagree in other respects, regard him in this light.[i] And indeed most recent scholarship is unanimous in this regard as well, again despite a wide range of divergence in interpretations in other respects.  Nagarjuna is simply too committed to rigorous analytical argument to be dismissed as a mystic....

 We are also interested in the possibility that these contradictions are structurally analogous to those arising in the Western tradition.  But while discovering a parallel between Nagarjuna's thought and those of other paraconsistent frontiersmen such as Kant and Hegel, Heidegger and Derrida, may help Western philosophers to understand Nagarjuna's project better, or at least might be a philosophical curio, we think we can deliver more than that:  We will argue that while Nagarjuna's contradictions are structurally similar to those we find in the West, Nagarjuna delivers to us a paradox as yet unknown in the West.  This paradox, we will argue, brings us a new insight into ontology and into our cognitive access to the world.  We should read Nagarjuna then, not because in him we can see affirmed what we already knew, but because we can learn from him.

One last set of preliminary remarks is in order before we get down to work:  In this paper we will defend neither the reading of Nagarjuna's texts we adopt here, nor the cogency of dialethic logic, nor the claim that true contradictions satisfying the Inclosure Schema in fact emerge at the limits of thought.  We will sketch these views, but will do so fairly baldly.  This is not because we take these positions to be self-evident, but because each of us has defended his respective bit of this background elsewhere.  This paper will be about bringing Nagarjuna and dialetheism together.  Finally, we do not claim that Nagarjuna himself had explicit views about logic, or about the limits of thought.  We do, however, think that if he did, he had the views we are about to sketch.  This is, hence, not textual history but rational reconstruction....

 The things that are conventionally true are the truths concerning the empirical world. Nagarjuna generally calls this class of truths "samv¸ti-satya," or occasionally "vyavah>ra-satya."  The former is explained by Nagarjuna's commentator Candrakırti to be ambiguous.  The first sense-the one most properly translated into English as "conventional truth (reality)" (Tibetan: tha snyad bden pa) is itself three ways ambiguous: On the one hand, it can mean ordinary, or everyday.  In this sense a conventional truth is a truth to which we would ordinarily assent -common sense augmented by good science.  The second of these three meanings is  truth by agreement.  In this sense, the decision in Australia to drive on the left establishes a conventional truth about the proper side of the road.  A different decision in the USA establishes another.  Conventional truth is, in this sense, often quite relative.  (Candrakırti argues that, in fact, the first sense it is also relative-relative to our sense organs, conceptual scheme, etc.  In this respect he would agree with such Pyrrhonian skeptics as Sextus.)  The final sense of this cluster is nominally true.  To be true in this sense is to be true in virtue of a particular linguistic convention.  So, for instance, the fact that shoes and boots are different kinds of things here, but are both instances of one kind-lham-in Tibetan makes their cospecificity or lack thereof a nominal matter. We English speakers, on the other hand, regard sparrows and crows both as members of a single natural superordinate kind, bird.   Native Tibetan speakers distinguish the bya  (the full-sized avian) from the bya'u (the smaller relative).  (Again, relativism about truth in this sense lurks in the background.)

But these three senses cluster as one family against which stands yet another principal meaning of "samv¸ti."  It can also mean concealing, hiding, obscuring, occluding.  In this sense (aptly captured by the Tibetan "kun rdzob bden pa," literally costumed truth) a samv¸ti-satya is something that conceals the truth, or its real nature, or as it is sometimes glossed in the tradition, something regarded as a truth by an obscured or a deluded mind.  Now, the Madhyamaka tradition, following Candrakırti, makes creative use of this ambiguity, noting that, for instance, what such truths conceal is precisely the fact that they are merely conventional (in any of the senses adumbrated above) or that an obscured mind is obscured precisely in virtue of not properly understanding the role of convention in constituting truth, etc. ....

 This lexicographic interlude is important primarily so that when we explore Nagarjuna's distinction between the conventional and the ultimate truth (reality), and between conventional and ultimate perspectives -the distinct stances Nagarjuna distinguishes towards the world, taken by ordinary vs enlightened beings -the word "conventional" is understood with this cluster of connotations, all present in Nagarjuna's treatment.  Our primary concern as we get to the heart of this exploration will be, however, with the notion of ultimate truth (reality) ("paramartha-satya", literally  truth of the highest meaning, or truth of the highest object).  This we can define negatively as the way things are, considered independently of convention, or positively as the way things are, when understood by a fully enlightened being who does not mistake what is really conventional for something that belongs to the very nature of things.

What is ultimate truth/reality, according to N>g>rjuna?  To understand this, we have to understand the notion of emptiness, which for Nagarjuna is emphatically not nonexistence, but, rather, interdependent existence.  For something to have an essence (Tibetan, rang bzhin; Sanskrit, svabh>va) is for it to be what it is, in and of itself, independently of all other things.  (This entails, incidentally, that things that are essentially so are eternally so; for if they started to be, or ceased to be, then their so being would depend on other things, such as time.)   To be empty is precisely to have no essence, in this sense.

The most important ultimate truth, according to Nagarjuna, is that everything is empty.  Much of the MÒlamadhyamakak>rik> (henceforth MMK) consists, in fact, of an extended set of arguments to the effect that everything that one might take be an essence is, in fact, not one -that everything is empty of essence and of independent identity.   The arguments are interesting and varied, and we will not go into them here.  But just to give the flavor of them, a very general argument is to be found in MMK V.  Here, Nagarjuna argues that the spatial properties (and by analogy, all properties) of an object cannot be essential.  For it would be absurd to suppose that the spatial location of an object could exist without the object itself -or, conversely, that there could be an object without location.  Hence, location and object are co-dependent.

From this it follows that there is no characterized

And no existing characteristic.  (MMK, V: 4 a, b)

more...



Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 04:48:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
oh la la!

this stuff really leaves one gasping for air after one paragraph, lol.

reminds me of sri aurobindo.

castles in the intellectual air, built on sands of whimsy.

if that's mapping the new psychic horizons, were done for!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Oct 28th, 2009 at 09:05:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
re: new psychic horizons

From where I'm sitting, exploration of human consciousness hasn't much advanced over two or three thousand years. Consider a few of my landmarks, given in both sandalwood's and Nagarjuna's essays concerning, indirectly, "bounded rationality" (a condition noted here by parallel vertical bars and modestly popularized by Herbert Simon's theory of the artificial).

- ∞ <------ |  f(t) ≥0 | ------> ∞

alternatively, the tau function to please Jake who would understand a "mathematical labrynth of complexity" whose beauty I cannot fully appreciate.

- ∞ <------ |  τ(n)=0(n 11/2 + ∈) |  ------> ∞

"Because it lies on a cool, ethereal plane beyond the everyday passions of human life, and because it can be fully grasped only through a language in which most people are unschooled, Ramanujan's work grants direct pleasure to only a few --a few hundred mathematicians and physicists around the world, perhaps a few thousand. The rest of us must either sit on the sidelines and, on the authority of the cognoscenti, cheer, or else rely on vague, metaphoric, and necessarily imprecise glimpses of his work." (The Man Who Knew Infinity)

Infinitessimally small units of the bigger picture with which I am engaged.

I think instead, consciousness is, in other words, not a thing but a state of imminence -- symbolized in part by immanence in literary traditions-- that engrosses the physical properties and functioning, voluntary and involuntary, of the human nervous system. The whole of this system of chemical and thermodynamic interactions that propels a person into the world is permeable.

Last night, I caught a few minutes of this program and was impressed by one remark by Andrew Weil. That is a truism, paraphrasing, from birth people seek experience which alters consciousness.

This morning, I happened across this interview with Derrick Jensen. I find myself agreeing with this interpretation of consciousness.

FJS: You often write that the dominant culture has robbed the world of its subjectivity; how does this influence our behavior? And if the stories we are told inculcate an objective perception of the world and those around us, then how do we shatter those lenses in order to begin perceiving the world for what it is - a matrix of subjective relations to be in communion with?

DJ: If you do not perceive the fundamental beingness of others (i.e. nonhuman animals, trees, mountains, rivers, rocks, etc), or in some senses do not even perceive their existence, then nothing I say or write can convince you.

complement. Something that together with X makes a complete whole--something that supplies what X lacks.
reciprocal. Two numbers whose product is 1 or two numbers whose sum is zero, the placeholder. According to wiki, following the Babylonian mathematcal system, "the ancient Greeks seemed unsure about the status of zero as a number. They asked themselves, "How can nothing be something?", leading to philosophical and, by the Medieval period, religious arguments about the nature and existence of zero and the vacuum. The paradoxes of Zeno of Elea depend in large part on the uncertain interpretation of zero."
"the Other". Cultural or political equivalent of an unknown quantity.

Nor will evidence be likely to convince you, since, as already mentioned, you won't perceive it, or more accurately, won't allow yourself to perceive it. No matter how well I write, if you have never made love, I cannot adequately describe to you what it feels like to do so. Even moreso, if you insist that no such thing as making love even exists, then I will certainly never be able to adequately explain to you what it feels like. For that matter, I cannot describe the color green to someone who is blind, and who even moreso insists that green does not exist, could never exist; as well as to someone who knows that philosophers from Aristotle to Descartes to Dawkins have conclusively shown that green does not exist, could not exist, has never existed, and will never exist; or to someone who is under the thrall of economic and legal systems (insofar as there is a meaningful difference, since the primary function of this culture's legal systems is to protect--through laws, police, courts, and prisons--the exploitative activities of the already-wealthy) based so profoundly on green not existing; who cannot acknowledge that this culture would collapse if its members individually and/or collectively perceived this green that cannot be allowed to exist. If I could describe the color green to you, I would do it. I would drive you, as R.D. Laing put it, out of your wretched mind. And you might be able to see the color green.  Or someone else could drive you out of your wretched mind. It certainly needn't be me. I'm not the point. You're not the point. Your perceived experience isn't even the point. The point is your wretched mind, and getting out of it. And beyond that, the point then is your experience.

reciprocity. Archetype of justice.

(magical and moral) realism. Also called egocentricity and adaption to "bounded rationality".


Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Thu Oct 29th, 2009 at 02:02:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cat:
I cannot describe the color green to someone who is blind, and who even more so insists that green does not exist, could never exist; as well as to someone who knows that philosophers from Aristotle to Descartes to Dawkins have conclusively shown that green does not exist, could not exist, has never existed, and will never exist; or to someone who is under the thrall of economic and legal systems (insofar as there is a meaningful difference, since the primary function of this culture's legal systems is to protect--through laws, police, courts, and prisons--the exploitative activities of the already-wealthy) based so profoundly on green not existing; who cannot acknowledge that this culture would collapse if its members individually and/or collectively perceived this green that cannot be allowed to exist. If I could describe the color green to you, I would do it. I would drive you, as R.D. Laing put it, out of your wretched mind. And you might be able to see the color green.  Or someone else could drive you out of your wretched mind. It certainly needn't be me. I'm not the point. You're not the point. Your perceived experience isn't even the point. The point is your wretched mind, and getting out of it. And beyond that, the point then is your experience.

whoa, ain't that the stone truth!

thanks for the amazing reply, cat, will follow those links.

R.D.L. and herman hesse, the two strongest reasons i'm still around, bless their memories...

politics of experience and steppenwolf, mix and ignite.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Oct 30th, 2009 at 07:02:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd mentioned logical positivism because it is dominant now.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Khun, 1962, is often considered to have been the death knell for logical positivism, despite the fact that the work had been commissioned by and included in the series "International Encyclopedia of Unified Science", edited by Otto Neurath and Rudolf Carnap and considered the culmination of the work of the Vienna Circle who were primary drivers of logical positivism.

Among those associated with this circle were such seminal figures as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Kurt Goedel, and it may be appropriate to compare the effects of Kuhn's Structure on logical empiricism to that of Goedel's work on the attempts to provide a unified set of proofs of theorems in number theory from Piano and Russell onward in that Khun and Goedel delimited the respective efforts rather than discrediting them.  Kuhn's work simply produced a paradigm shift in the field of Philosophy of Science. Thus, it is inappropriate to assert that "logical positivism is dominant now" as it has not been dominant at least since 1962.    

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 11:06:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Still dominant, in a way, after 1962 as I was taught LP as a currently active, need-to-take-account-of, philosophy in 1969 through 1971.  Some of my profs were definitively Logical Positivists and some were sympathetic to their program.  

I do agree it was essentially dead after Kuhn.  Just took a while for it to quit twitching.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 11:22:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes in the mid 90's it was essentially taught as something that was of the past, which  had been relegated to the pages of the history of thought. Kuhn was seen as something more Modern in the analytic tradition, and there were many discussions of Habermas' essays  when I was last looking into this area

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 07:49:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was in grad school in history at U of Arizona in '64 when I read Structure.  A biology grad student acquaintance who invited me to a lecture on Goedel's theorem was also impressed by Kuhn, as were friends in astronomy and other scientific disciplines. From this I take it that Kuhn largely had won the minds of the next generation by '64. Professors with an academic investment in LP is another matter, as Kuhn noted.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Oct 26th, 2009 at 03:05:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very interesting diary. Thank you, sandalwood.

B. Alan Wallace describes in his book, "Contemplative Science - Where Buddhism and neuroscience converge" (Columbia Univ. Press, NY) exactly what you are referring to.

Wallace spent 14 years as a Buddhist monk and founded the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, ( http://sbinstitute.com ). His aim is precisely to link modern science and ancient contemplative sciences in their respective limitations and possibilities while also criticising the purely scientific way that he calls "scientific materialism" and which refuses radical new metaphysical insights.

Some quotes:

" While early natural philosophers such as Newton were intent on discovering absolute truths about the natural world, scientists learned the hard way to take a more modest stance regarding their best observations and theories."

"The very idea of absolute certainty of any scientific knowledge is now widely regarded as a myth."

"While science characteristically embraces the 'disturbingly new,' it has a much harder time embracing the 'disturbingly old,' namely, discoveries that were made long ago (let alone in an alien civilization), prior to the scientific revolution."

It's a fascinating read!  

by Lily (put - lilyalmond - here <a> yahaah.france) on Thu Oct 29th, 2009 at 10:36:14 AM EST


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